Chapter XV.
 
    "Great minds, like heaven, are pleased in doing good."
                                            --Rowe.

Capt. Raymond's departure left Violet more lonely than his coming had found her, much as she was at that time missing her elder sister and brother.

They were to correspond, but as he would sail immediately for a foreign port, the exchange of letters between them could not, of course, be very frequent.

Her mother, grandpa, and Grandma Rose all sympathized with her in the grief of separation from the one who had become so dear, and exerted themselves to cheer and comfort her.

She and her mamma were bosom companions, and had many a confidential chat about the captain and his poor children, the desire to rescue the latter from their tormentors and make them very happy growing in the hearts of both.

As the captain had not enjoined secrecy upon them in regard to the letters of Max and Lulu, and it was so much the habit of both to speak freely to Mr. and Mrs. Dinsmore--especially the former--of all that interested themselves, it was not long before they too had heard, with deep commiseration, the story of the unkind treatment to which Max, Lulu, and Gracie were subjected.

"We must find a way to be of service to them," Mr. Dinsmore said. "Perhaps by instituting inquiries among our friends and acquaintances we may hear of some kind and capable person able and willing to take charge of them, and to whom their father would be willing to commit them."

"I wish we could!" Elsie said with a sigh. "I think I can fully sympathize with the poor things, for I have not forgotten how in my early childhood I used to long and weep for the dear mamma who had gone to heaven, and my dear papa away in Europe."

"A very poor sort of father he was then, very culpably neglectful of his little motherless child," Mr. Dinsmore said in a remorseful tone, and regarding her with a tenderly affectionate look.

"But afterward and to this day the very best of fathers," she responded, smiling up at him. "Dear papa, what a debt of gratitude do I not owe to you for all the love, care, and kindness shown by you to me and my children!"

"I feel fully repaid by the love and obedience I receive in return," he said, seating himself on the sofa by Vi's side and softly stroking her hair.

"Children and grandchildren all rise up and call you blessed, dear papa," Elsie said, laying down the embroidery with which she had been busy, and coming to his other side to put her arm about his neck and gaze lovingly into his eyes.

A silent caress as he passed his arm around her waist and drew her closer to him was his only response.

"Grandpa and mamma," said Vi, "don't you think Capt. Raymond is to be pitied? Just think! he has neither father nor mother, brother nor sister! no near and dear one except his children; and from them he is separated almost all the time."

"Yes," said Mr. Dinsmore, "I do indeed! but am not sorry enough for him to give you up to him yet. I would not allow your mamma to marry till she was several years older than you are now."

"No, sir," said Elsie, smiling, "I well remember that you utterly forbade me to listen to any declarations of love from man or boy, or to think of such things if I could possibly help it."

"Well, you lost nothing by waiting."

"Lost! oh, no, no papa!" she cried, dropping her head upon his shoulder, while a scalding tear fell to the memory of the husband so highly honored, so dearly loved.

"My dear child! my poor dear child!" her father said very low and tenderly, pressing her closer to his side; "the separation is only for the little while of time, the reunion will be for the endless ages of eternity."

"A most sweet and comforting thought, dear father," she said, lifting her head and smiling through her tears; "and with that glad prospect and so many dear ones left me, I am a very happy woman still."

At that moment there was an interruption that for a long time put to flight all thought of effort on behalf of Capt. Raymond's children: Herbert and Harold came hurrying in with the news that a summons to Roselands had come for their grandpa, grandma, and mother. Mrs. Conly had had another stroke, was senseless, speechless, and apparently dying; also the shock of her seizure had prostrated her father, and Arthur considered him dangerously ill.

The summons was promptly obeyed, and Violet left in the temporary charge of children, house, and servants at Ion.

Mrs. Conly died that night, but the old gentleman lingered for several weeks, during which time his son was a constant attendant at his bedside, either Rose or Elsie almost always sharing the watch and labor of love.

At length all was over: the spirit had returned to God who gave it, the body had been laid to rest in the family vault. Mr. Dinsmore and his wife and daughter went home to Ion, and life there fell back into its old quiet grooves.

They spoke tenderly of the old grandfather, and kept his memory green in their loving hearts, but he had gone to his grave like a shock of corn fully ripe, and they did not mourn over his death with the sadness they might have felt had it been that of a younger member of the family.

Toward spring Capt. Raymond's letters became urgent for a speedy marriage. He expected to be ordered home in June and allowed a rest of some weeks or months. Then he might be sent to some distant quarter of the globe, and not see his native land again for a long while, perhaps years. Under such circumstances, how could he wait for his little wife? Would not she and her mother and grandfather consent to let him claim her in June?

The tender hearts of Elsie and Violet could not stand out against his appeals. Mr. and Mrs. Dinsmore felt for him too, and at length consent was given, and preparations for the marriage were set on foot.

Then the talk about the captain's children was renewed, and Vi said, with tears in her sweet azure eyes, "Mamma, I do feel like being a mother to them--especially for his sake--it only I were old enough and wise enough to command their respect and obedience. Ah, mamma, if only you could have the training of them! Yet I could not bear to have you so burdened."

"I have been thinking of it, Vi, dear," Elsie said; "that perhaps we could give them a happy home here, and help them to grow up to good and noble man and womanhood, if their father would like to delegate his authority to your grandpa and you and me. I think we would not abuse it, but without it 'twould be quite useless to undertake the charge."

"Dear mamma!" cried Vi, her eyes shining, "how good, how kind, and unselfish you always are!"

Mr. Dinsmore, entering the room at the moment, asked playfully, "What is the particular evidence of that patent at this time, Vi?"

She answered his question by repeating what her mother had just said.

"I have a voice in that," he remarked, with, a grave shake of the head. "I do not think, daughter, that I can allow you to be so burdened."

She rose, went to him where he stood, and putting her arms about his neck, her eyes gazing fondly into his, "Dear papa," she said, "you know I will do nothing against your wishes, but I am sure you will not hinder me from doing any work the Master sends me?"

"No, dear child, you are more His than mine, and I dare not, would not interfere if He has sent you work; but the question is, has He done so?"

"If you please, papa, we will take a little time to consider that question; shall we not?"

"Yes," he said, "it need not be decided to-day. The right training and educating of those children would certainly be a good work, and could it be so managed that I could do all the hard and unpleasant part of it----" he said musingly.

"Oh no! no! my dear father," she hastily interposed, as he paused, leaving his sentence unfinished, "the work should be mine if undertaken at all."

"Perhaps," he said, "it might be tried for a short time as a mere experiment, to be continued only if the children do not prove ungovernable, or likely to be an injury to our own; for our first duty is to them."

"Yes indeed, papa!" responded his daughter earnestly. "And nothing can be really decided upon until Capt. Raymond comes. He may have other plans for his children."

"Yes, it is quite possible he may think best to place Max and Lulu at school somewhere."

"But poor little sick Gracie!" said Violet, the tears springing to her eyes. "Mamma, I do want to have her to love and pet, and I think if we had her here with our good old mammy to nurse her, and Cousin Arthur to attend her, she might grow to be strong and healthy."

"Dear child! I am glad to hear you say that!" said Elsie, "for it is just as I have been thinking and feeling. My heart yearns over the poor motherless children, and that little feeble one very especially."

Capt. Raymond was deeply touched when, shortly after his arrival at Ion to claim his bride, he learned what was in her heart and her mother's toward his children.

After due deliberation it was settled that the experiment should be tried. Arrangements were made for the whole family to spend the summer in two adjoining cottages at a lovely seaside resort on the New England coast, Mrs. Dinsmore to be mistress of one house, Violet of the other, while the captain could be with her, which he had reason to expect would be for several months.

In the fall he would probably be ordered away; then Violet would return to Ion with her mother and the rest of the family, taking his children with her, if Mr. Dinsmore and Elsie should still feel willing to take them in charge. He had a high opinion of Dr. Conly's skill as a physician, and was extremely anxious to place Gracie under his care. Also he thought that to no other persons in the world would he so joyfully commit his children to be trained up and educated as to Mr. Dinsmore, his daughter and granddaughter, and he was more than willing to delegate to them his own authority during his absences from home.

The marriage would take place at Ion, the bride and groom start northward the same day on a wedding tour. On the return trip to the spot which was to be their home for the summer, they would call for the captain's children.

In the mean time the others would complete their arrangements for the season, journey northward also, and take possession of their seaside cottage.

It was a sore disappointment to the whole family at Ion, but especially to Violet and her brother, that Elsie Leland could not be present at the wedding. Lester's health was almost entirely restored, but he felt it important to him as an artist to prolong his stay in Italy for at least some months.

Edward had remained with them through the winter, had left them in April, intending to make an extensive European tour before returning to his native land, but would surely hasten home for Vi's wedding if his mother's summons reached him in season.